High Uinta Wilderness/Domestic Sheep

Overgrazing in the Uinta Mountains of Utah|Y2U staff and volunteers surveying overgrazing in the Uinta Mountains|The area used by sheep is the less stable shale on the left. Sheep bedding, grazing, trailing, loss of ground cover all are happening on the left. This area should not be grazed, but is.|Y2U staff and volunteers surveying overgrazing in the Uinta Mountains|||| Overgrazing in the Uinta Mountains of Utah|Y2U staff and volunteers surveying overgrazing in the Uinta Mountains|The area used by sheep is the less stable shale on the left. Sheep bedding, grazing, trailing, loss of ground cover all are happening on the left. This area should not be grazed, but is.|Y2U staff and volunteers surveying overgrazing in the Uinta Mountains|||| |Jason Christensen||Jason Christensen||||

Status

Y2U organized a coalition of environmental groups and interested individuals to address 11 sheep grazing allotments in the High Uinta Wilderness that are in conflict with bighorn sheep. We have met with the Regional Forester, Forest Supervisors, and other USFS staff on more than one occasion to delineate our concerns and recommendations. This 175,000 acre area is habitat for Canada lynx, bighorn sheep, black bears, cougars and many other species. It also provides a significant water source for much of Utah. Our current work:

  • Mapping and data analysis of our past monitoring data, Forest Service monitoring data, bighorn sheep habitat, and risk analysis data.
  • We conducted field visits to Forest Service monitoring locations in August 2016 to collect data on forage production and land capability. This information was used to determine appropriate stocking rates and forage suitability classifications in comparison to those of the agency.
  • The project was re-scoped in spring of 2016. Our coalition submitted detailed comments. An important element of our submission is a GIS-based capability model that will analyze the pounds/acre of biomass available in these sheep-grazed allotments. This will allow us to calculate an ecologically-based stocking rate for these allotments to present to the USFS.  
  • We expect the EIS to be released within the next year. During the last weekend of September 2016 we met with the agency to present our stocking rate and forage capacity model. The Forest Service was noncommittal. We completed data analysis and submitted a report to the Forest Service as part of our coalition comments on the DEIS.

Update

August, 2019

Y2U and a coaltion of 8 other organizations have submitted comments to the Forest Service with regard to the overgrazing of sheep allotments in the Uinta Mountains. After submitting comments in 2015 and 2016, we have come to conclusion that the Forest Service has done nothing to address the environmental issues, including:

I. The USFS has generally failed to address domestic sheep grazing in the Hugh Uintas wilderness in the context of pending climate change

II. Issues relating to bighorn sheep and risk of contact with domestic sheep

III. Issues relating to wilderness qualities and values

IV. Appropriateness of sheep grazing within important lynx habitat

V. Overgrazing of domestic sheep in the wilderness

We are disappointed as to the weaknesses and general failings of multiple aspects of the NEPA anlaysis undertaken in this DEIS, and look forward to working with the Forest Service in fulfilling the intent of the statutes and regulations the Forest Service works within. See linked documents below for coalition comments and comments in conjunction with Western Watersheds Project.

Expected Outcome

Optimistically, the bighorn sheep risk analysis will result in Forest Service recommendation to close some allotments.  Our work is intended to show the impact of current stocking rates, which are far too high. We are also considering buyouts of some allotments.